Mindfulness, Meditation and Counselling/Psychotherapy

Mindfulness meditation has come to be an important part of my practice as a counsellor. With its origins in Eastern philosophy and specifically some branches of Buddhism, mindfulness became popularized in the West in the 70s by a number of teachers and psychologists. Famously, Jon Kabbat Zin, a student of Zen Buddhism created an eight-week evidenced-based course for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). An early adopter, Kabbat Zin’s work from 1979 remains a widely successful, secular program that blended science with Buddhist principles in a course of study founded “moment to moment awareness” for a Western audience. A number of (white) people are credited with “having brought Buddhism to the West,” including Ram Dass, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Mark Epstein. Each are therapists, writers and teachers themselves.

Mindfulness or meditation (which I use interchangeably) is the practice of moment to moment awareness, as referenced above. When we are aware of each moment, fully present to it, we cannot be stuck in the past or projecting into the future. We are simply here, now. And in this moment is a silence, a presence, a peace, a breath. Another moment follows. And on and on. Anxiety is premised on thoughts ruminations about the past and projections onto the future. When we practice mindfulness, the cultivation of presence takes the space of anxiety. When we do heart opening and acceptance practices in the moment, it is hard for depression to keep its grip.

There are a multitude of ways to practice mindfulness from eyes open to eyes closed, from practices called “do nothing” of the Zen tradition, to practices where we actively cultivate heart energy (Metta) to visualizations to mantras. The list goes on. Many counsellors, myself included, look to Buddhism to inform their therapeutic practices – whether through the adoption of Buddhist principles like non-attachment, suffering, impermanence, groundlessness, radical uncertainty, compassion (again the list goes on) or through the direct application of meditative practices as a resource in session and beyond.

I often teach mindfulness meditation to clients as a resource for our work in the room and for home practice, and as a tool for facing the everyday world. Sometimes the work we do in session requires a very fine-tuned, grounded attention that is hard to access in our default ways of being conscious and how we usually “pay attention.”

If you’re interested in learning more, some resources that I love on meditation include The Consciousness Explorers Podcast and The Consciousness Explorers Club (a welcoming community with weekly online meditation events and occasional with great teachers). A friend and teacher Jude Star has also developed an incredible course on Mindfulness for ADHD. Authors and teachers like Ram Dass, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg and Mark Epstein also have an abundance of material to dive into.